Tuesday morning Destin Elementary first, second and third-graders were treated to a performance of "Alice Rocks Wonderland," from the Atlantic Coast Theatre (A.C.T.) based in Orlando.
Husband and wife Don Gruel and Noel Holland are the multi-talented team behind A.C.T. Together, they write music and scripts, sew costumes and perform their original plays for more than 75,000 children annually throughout the United States.
"We're all inclusive," said Gruel backstage. "We build and make everything ourselves."
Gruel and Holland have degrees in theatre and music education respectively and have been touring for 14 years together as a theatre company.
"Alice Rocks Wonderland," is a musical adaptation of the 1865 novel by Lewis Carroll, featuring characters such as The Cheshire Cat, The Queen of Hearts and The Mad Hatter as well as a modern-day, leather-clad, brunette Alice who finds herself lost in Wonderland after she is assigned to write a report on the popular book.
Students erupted in laughter at Gruel acting out the silly storybook characters. And some even got to participate during the famous tea party scene. Second-grader Brianna Stone did her best bunny impression to play The March Hare and third-grader Ethan Lovelady played the sleepy Dormouse.
A.C.T. has been coming to Destin for about eight years though the Mattie Kelly Arts Foundation. It is part of the organization’s All Kinds of Art program. Since 1995, more than 250,000 children have been inspired through the educational outreach program in over 55 schools in Okaloosa and Walton counties.
"They're fantastic, they really prioritize bringing the arts to schools," Gruel said.
As a full-time touring theatre, Gruel and Holland spend most of their time on the road. Next week, they'll be in New Orleans.
The couple states they have "the best job in the world.”
"No matter what happens in life, making children smile, laugh and learn is a tremendous joy."